Color Matching and QC

By Kerry Pianoforte, Ink World Associate Editor | 10.21.05

More and more printers are utilizing color matching equipment and software prior to press.

By Kerry Pianoforte
Associate Editor
Color matching is becoming ever more sophisticated, and ink companies are working to develop innovative new systems for their customers. (Photo courtesy of EIC)

When it come to color matching and quality control, consistency and repeatability are key to printers.

Ink manufacturers are meeting these demands with a variety of color matching services, both at the manufacturing site and in-house.

From Art to Science
In the past, ink formulators relied on a skilled eye to match colors. While a trained eye is still required, ink formulators now have a variety of technologies to aid them.

“Color matching has evolved from art to science over the years,” said Michael Impastato, vice president, market development, Flint Ink Corp. “In the past we used the trained eye to make color judgements. Today we continue to rely on the trained eye of the color matcher and printer, but they are aided by computer software, spectrophotometers, color balanced light booths and automated proofing system. Today we can bring together the technology that enhances the color matcher’s talents and ensures consistency.”

“Instrumental color measurement has had the greatest effect on the demands on the ink industry,” said Don Matthiesen, director of marketing, Environmental Inks and Coatings (EIC). “Quality programs emphasize statistical quality control, hence the need to put a number on color measurement. Consistency of color delivery has become monumentally important as consumer marketing companies realize that their best advertising is an appealing package.”

“More and more printers are doing their own color matches, leaving the more difficult matches for the ink supplier,” said Mike Buystedt, director new market development, ANI Printing Inks. “Two developments that have assisted both the ink supplier and the converter in color matching are the creation of reliable proofers with anilox rolls that will duplicate press performance and mechanically automating the pressure and speed of these proofers when applying ink to the substrate, allowing converters to repeatedly duplicate what is run on press.”

“The process is much the same but many of the tools have changed or evolved into what we have today,” said Larry Cahill, QC/color matching supervisor at Nazdar. “For example, we use digital scales and weigh formulas to the 100th place instead of using triple-beam scales, for increased accuracy and repeatability. We rely heavily on the color computers to scientifically formulate, correct and objectively evaluate our matches. Ultimately it still comes down to weighing up a formula, printing it using the customer’s specified parameters and making sure the color matches.”

“Customers today know what to ask for,” said Mark Brandenburg, manager of production services, Color Converting Inc. (CCI). “They are much more sophisticated in requesting information and in interpreting the output. This is really driving the industry to take the ‘art’ out of color matching and move it towards a science.”

“The increased quality of pictorials means we do a lot more plate switch outs on our proofers to simulate anilox changes,” said Jeff Basler, Wisconsin technical service manager, CCI. “We’re really creating a mini press-like environment for proofing.”

Another major development in the color matching arena is the ability to provide color match information on a global basis. This has become especially feasible with X-Rite’s Web Edition software. “This software enables CCI to receive measures from samples taken directly from customer desktops which then transmit directly in to CCI’s database,” said Mark Tesdall, IMS project manager in charge of CCI’s proprietary ink room software. “From this information, our color matchers are able to formulate and create proofs, which can then be communicated to any computer anywhere in the world, provided they have an Internet connection and Internet Explorer.”

The biggest changes in color matching have been the introduction of accurate and affordable measurement tools that allow precise definition of colors, according to Brian Chwierut, packaging manager at Sun Chemical. This has allowed ink makers to feed the color information into dispensing systems that blend formulations that are closer to target. In addition, the ink maker can now store that data and communicate in a way that allows a defined color to be matched virtually everywhere in the world.

What Printers Want
Printers make many demands on their ink suppliers. First and foremost, they want the ink to match their customers’ specifications. Consistency and repeatability rank among the most important attributes.

“They want three things,” said Harvey Brice, managing director, Superior Printing Ink. “They want a perfect match, they want the ink to be consistent on the press and in most cases, they want it very quickly.”

“Printers look for accuracy, precise color correlation to their press and above all consistency,” said. Mr. Matthiesen.

“Printers are looking for colors that match their customers’ expectation,” said Mr. Impastato. “This involves more than color matching. First, the printer and the ink maker must establish a good color standards program. The color standards have to be agreed upon by all parties: the customer, printer and ink maker. These ‘approved’ standards become the bible. In some cases Pantone reference colors are used to describe the color. It is important for all parties to recognize that the Pantone reference may not be capable of being the standard. If a printer is printing on a different substrate or with different inks than were used to print the Pantone reference color, a press printed standard may need to be generated and approved. When a press generated standard is used, the printer will be able to match the color and all parties will be satisfied run after run by the consistency of the color.

“This brings us to the second attribute, which is consistency,” he continued. “Consistency throughout the run, and from run to run. This is accomplished by having stable inks, a consistent printing process and tight quality control. Variability is an inherent in any process. The issue become controlling the variability to a level that is acceptable. Typically color variability is described by the Delta E of the inks when measured on a spectrophotometer. A Delta E between 1 and 2 is usually acceptable. But there are applications where the Delta must be kept to under 1.”

“The two attributes that converters look for most are repeatability and consistency in the end product as compared with proofs done prior to press,” said Mr. Buystedt. “Printers do not want to do color matching on press – this is too expensive. More and more printers utilize color matching equipment and quality software to proof inks prior to press. This increases productivity and reduces waste.”

“Customers expect the color matches Nazdar does to match the standard specified based upon their specific printing parameters,” said Mr. Cahill. “These printing parameters would include but are not limited to screen mesh, application light source, substrate, opacity, gloss, viscosity, cure and color tolerance. This information is obtained prior to starting the match to ensure that we meet all of the customer requirements and delivery expectations. Once the color match is completed, the customer is typically provided with a wet sample and/or a print to evaluate accuracy of the match. A retain of this wet sample is kept in our quality control (QC) department for future reference. When the match is ordered, we compare the batch to the QC retain. This provides better batch-to-batch consistency.”

“In short, printers are looking to achieve color with one pull,” said Ken Cummings, technical account manager – southern region, CCI. “This translates into color matching capabilities such as providing excellent ink room to press correlation, hitting Delta E’s trending towards less than 1, matching on various substrates, creating anilox/cylinder specific matches and achieving various strength targets.”

Towards this end, CCI has spent substantial resources to develop proofing methods with accurate anilox and cylinder specific correlation. CCI has also worked with software providers to study and predict matches on various substrates with various strength targets. “With the studies that we have done, we have been able to work with X-Rite to modify strength values to account for the increasing demands of our customers, including predicting color for traps, vignettes and higher quality process printing,” said Mr. Basler. “We can do this on any common substrate.”

Sun Chemical’s color experts agree that printers want color matches and targets that they can actually print. In addition, because printers are under more pressure to produce highly accurate color, they need a way to document that throughout their print production.

“Commercially acceptable color has been redefined over the last decade,” said Steve Miller, color systems technology manager for Kohl and Madden, the commercial inks division of Sun Chemical. “Printers are being pushed hard by brand owners to match colors precisely. This has given rise to the use of spectrophotometers and color-matching software, which provide tighter tolerance on measurements. These devices are now more objective, more accurate and more affordable. Many more pressrooms are using them now than five years ago. That is why we work closely with printers and brand owners to define colors that can be harmonized across media from plastics to uncoated papers.”

Mr. Miller added that in addition to accuracy, printers place a high level of importance on timely delivery since they now have tighter controls on their ink inventories and are under constant deadline pressure. He said Sun Chemical must be able to draw on its library of existing formulas to help printers be flexible and to meet deadlines.

Tools of the Trade
While it still requires a skilled eye, ink makers now have the latest high-tech tools from computer software to spectrophotometers to assist them in making a perfect match. For example, Sun Chemical has created its SmartColour system for packaging in Europe among its other color matching systems. Nazdar has developed its ColorStar system.

Flint Ink offers two general color matching services to printers. “The first is the original color match,” said Mr. Impastato. “This is a formula that will be used to make inks from virgin colorants. This type of color matching is typically done in our laboratories, and the formula is utilized to make ink in our facility or it will be transmitted to the printers’ ink room where the ink will be made on site. The second is color matches that utilize press returns and/or obsolete inks. All inks cannot be made from virgin colorants; press returns are a fact-of-life for the printer. Even the best run printing operation will have press returns that need to be utilized or inks that become obsolete due to customer graphic changes. It is economically essential that these inks find their way back into the printing operation. Sometimes people think using press returns diminishes the quality of an ink, but that is not true. If a printer has a good process set up around press returns so that the inks are preserved and retested, there is no reason these inks will not generate equal performance to fresh virgin ink.”

Sun Chemical utilizes multiple technologies – from human eye to spectrophotometers – to match inks to nearly any shade, according to Mr. Miller.

The company has built a large library of thousands of existing colors, which stores existing matches and ink formulations. If the color requested is not an existing color, Mr. Miller said, then Kohl & Madden or any Sun Chemical division can use highly accurate measurement tools to define the color and match the targets.

“Sun Chemical’s goal is to provide the right color the first time, under the press application conditions that printers actually face,” said Mr. Chwierut. “We have a continuing effort to reduce press makeready through the use of improved color measurement equipment that is linked by software to accurate ink dispensing equipment.”

Mr. Chwierut added that the combination of tools improves color matching at the first press pull, allows printers to efficiently use ink press returns and can reduce inventories of pre-match base colors.

Jim Putney, operations leader for Vivitek, also a member of the Sun Chemical group, pointed out that Sun Chemical is sought out by graphic designers and consumer product companies to provide color targets that are printable and repeatable. “Often, printers are given an old package or an expired paint card and asked to match it. When we work with these groups early in the design process, it often means they will give printers an ink-on-substrate target with colors that are well-defined and which can actually be printed on their presses.”

ANI Printing Inks provides color matching in all systems offered at no charge to customers.

“We have color matching databases for all of our ink lines, UV and water-based flexo, UV letterpress, UV offset and UV screen,” said Mr. Buystedt. “Standard PMS formulas will not work for all ink systems because the pigments used in the prior systems mentioned are not all the same as in the PMS book.”

EIC will match any color on any printable substrate. “EIC provides statistical process control and documentation of colors for customers,” said Mr. Matthiesen. “Most color matches are completed to support an ink order. Customers will also request color matches to qualify for large volumes of business. EIC also maintains color standards for printers who have multiple locations. Instrumental color measurement is crucial to maintaining color consistency.”

“Matching colors is essential,” said Mr. Brice. “Our color matching system is what we based our business on. Our 25 branches have color matching capabilities and we also have 23 in-plant operations. The capacity is to match the colors, make the ink and put it on the press in an expedient time.”

EIC provides color formula databases to drive computer color matching as well as manual and automatic color mixing. EIC offers its customers the Anilox Aware color formulation software.

Flint Ink uses color matching software as well, but cautions it is not always 100 percent accurate.

“In the past we have used proprietary matching systems, but there are good commercial systems on the market today,” said Mr. Impastato. “The available software is capable, but it is not perfect. When using computerized matching, one often overlooked issue is the proofing system. Before a computer can be used for color matching you must establish a reproducible proofing system. Without a good proofing system that can generate tight reproducibility, a computerized matching system can not be successful. With a good proofing process and computerized software, you can expect to get about a 75 percent first time match capability.”

“Color Converting Inc. works primarily with the X-Rite Color Master formulation software,” said Mr. Tesdall. “CCI has also modified its proprietary Ink Room Manager software system to integrate with output from Color Master software. Via this combination, CCI is able to track and report press downtime related to Color Match.”

In addition to the software tools which have advanced color matching capabilities, CCI has placed emphasis on the processes surrounding bringing ink to press. “Your color matches are only as good as your processes,” said Bill Pinegar, national in-house manager, CCI. “The best color computer in the world won’t bring good color matches unless it is used with consistent processes. In terms of achieving consistent color matches, we can get ‘on color’ out of the ink room 100 percent of the time. While we can’t always impact variation once the ink goes to press, our job is to at least make sure that ink is not the constraint to achieving color.”

Ink manufacturers and their suppliers have a variety of color matching and quality control products available. From third party color matching software to custom computer programs, ink manufacturers are meeting the demands of their printers for consistent, repeatable color.

Color Converting Inc. (CCI) provides a number of color matching services including custom color matches on a variety of substrates and structures; matches can be anilox/cylinder specific as per customer requests/protocol. These can be derived from either physical standards or electronic data. The company reports that turnaround times of 24 hours can often be met, particularly in the world of flexographic printing. Production orders based on these matches can often be shipped same day as well. Integration services are offered, which include all color matches and associated databases for new customers or new segments of business within existing customers. End-use client color management for on-site color approvals and on-going management of color files. On-site customer training modules, including spectrophotometry, basic color matching, proofing methods, and multi-site X-Rite Web Edition use and implementation.

Some printers need quick starting points for color matches they are doing in-house. Nazdar provides its customers, free of charge, with theoretical starting formulations, which can be obtained by calling either the local distributor or Nazdar technical service. Customer can also access ColorStar Online to obtain formulas for the most common Pantone colors.

“To better service our customers in specific regions, Nazdar also offers custom color matching services at a number of our distribution locations (Cincinnati, Pennsauken, Miami and West),” said Larry Cahill, QC/color matching supervisor, Nazdar. “More complex color matches or matches that require larger quantities of ink are typically done at the manufacturing facilities (Shawnee, Chicago, Atlanta, and Toronto).”

“Customers that do their own matching or would like to start can utilize Nazdar’s color management system, which is called ColorStar,” said Mr. Cahill. “ColorStar provides screen printers with a line of easy-to-use software programs designed to produce Pantone color match simulations.”

ColorStar from Nazdar is available in four versions to meet production requirements and fit any budget. ColorStar Basic has formulas for Pantone’s most popular colors in all of Nazdar’s UV ink series and some solvent-based series. ColorStar Pro 2.0 has all the features of the basic version, plus an enhanced calculation field that allows more accurate quantity usage predictions with exact parameters based on specific mesh and/or coverage information. ColorStar Manager features an inventory control field that adjusts and tracks inventory, generates inventory status reports, records reorder information and initiates purchase orders. An inventory work-off function tracks unused ink that can be mixed to produce new colors so overstock can be turned into profit. ColorStar CheckWeigh System increases efficiency, eliminates waste, reduces set up time and boost profits. It offers advanced capabilities like superior scaling accuracy, automatic over pour correction, automated systems integration and lab scale interface. It also offers proper ink ratio calculation, true Pantone color matching, quantity and usage predictions, accurate job costing, storage of print parameters and inventory tracking.

Sun Chemical uses a variety of proprietary and third-party software systems to help printers match colors. SmartColour, Sun Chemical’s integrated system to achieve color accuracy and consistency in packaging printing, is being rolled out in Europe after extensive development. The system offers tailored color management, irrespective of printing process, to brand managers, designers, repro houses and packaging printers. SmartColour is based on building a color library with specific, measurable attributes that allows exact color choice and control.

SmartColour employs an exclusive system of computerized tools to measure and visualize color choices. One key element is the PreView software which places a digitally defined color into separated designs to easily and dramatically demonstrate its appearance on a given substrate.

"I am very encouraged by the results we are achieving with SmartColour," said Gordon Stone, director, Colour Management for Sun Chemical Europe Packaging Inks. "I genuinely believe those of us in the packaging industry facing the need for color consistency using many different processes, inks and substrates, will benefit greatly from what SmartColor has to offer.

SmartColour promotes the choice of color from established palettes, rather than continually generating new formulations. “It is important to be able to visualize the new color match in the context of the design, perhaps in the wider context of the product family, and to see it on calibrated monitors, as well as by conventionally and digitally printed proofs. Through Smartcolour, we will make our shades available from the web,” said Mr. Stone.

For brand owners, SmartColor can speed the approvals process and lower costs by reducing guesswork on color choices while harmonizing colors to promote a targeted image. Printers should be able to lower total costs, improve press utilization, reduce waste and be able to offer certified color guarantees, Mr. Stone said.

Pantone Inc. and Xerox Corp. have formed a joint venture to deliver consistent color reproduction on digital presses. Pantone digital chips lets print shop owners and designers establish what Pantone colors will look like before they go to press, whether printing to a Xerox DocuColor digital color press, using an offset printer to reproduce solid Pantone Colors or converting to four-color process. The new chip book is an extension of the Pantone Library of fan guides and books, and is the first version designed specifically for digital press simulation to take the guesswork out of digital printing, ensuring client satisfaction.

Pantone digital chips is a system that includes 1,089 Pantone Colors, the process color equivalents and how these colors reproduce on a DocuColor 6060 with a Xerox DocuSP front end. It enables a three-way comparison of solid Pantone Colors to the CMYK process offset printing simulation and the digital press simulation to provide an accurate visualization prior to printing so educated decisions can be made on the appropriate printing method, thus eliminating disappointing results. All colors are presented in a tear-out chip format on coated stock that can be easily attached to artwork so designers, printers and clients have clear expectations of the final printed results.

The Xerox DocuColor 6060 Digital Color Press is engineered to help commercial printers, in-plant printers and quick-print professionals boost revenue by producing customized brochures, one-to-one documents and other print jobs on a wide variety of paper stocks with outstanding image quality. The DocuColor 6060 is part of the successful DocuColor 2000 Series of entry-level digital color presses, where Xerox has achieved 10,000 installations worldwide, bolstering its No. 1 market share position in digital production color printing. The digital color press prints 60 full-color pages per minute or 3,600 images per hour and offers resolution of 600 x 600 pixels per inch with a full eight bits of color depth per pixel.

A Pantone digital chips book will also be produced and available in the near future for the Pantone licensed Xerox DocuColor iGen3 Digital Production Press with a DocuSP front end.


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